- Just Because I Told Him I Was Going To Become A Comedian
- The Godfather Of Comedy, ALI BABA Tells City People
- Reveals The Shocking Story Of His Life
Everyone simply calls him Ali Baba. But that is not his full name. His name is tongue twisting. His real name is Akpophiowobo Akporobomemerere Atunyota Omavueshu. To make it easy he was named Alleluya because he was the first son born by his mother. And his dad had to wait to have a son. He was the only son and only child of his mum in the Ovie Palace at Agbara Otor.
So his baptismal name was Alleluya shortened to Alley and later Alli. And with showbiz, Baba was added. Over the last 3 decades or so, Alli has built for himself a formidable brand.
How did he become the face of comedy in Nigeria? How did he achieve that? How did his dad take his decision to go into stand up comedy?
A while back, this talented stand-up comedian spoke to City People about his life and career, especially how his daddy didn’t support his decision to do comedy. He wanted him to be a Lawyer or an Accountant so that he could grow up to support him financially and take care of his younger siblings for him. He spoke to City People Magazine Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, about how the brand Alli Baba started. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Tell us about where you were born and where you grew up? Tell us about your parents
My dad was the only child that his mum had in the palace in Agbara Otor. My dad is from the royal family in Agbara Ughelli, which is where the Ibrus are from and the Bruce Onobrahpeyas. My dad was the only child of his mum in the palace.
My mum was sitting amongst women in the palace who have had 4 kids, 5 or 6. and there is this tall, Bianca-looking kind of woman that has just one child. And the impression back then was that they probably locked her womb so that she won’t have more children.
The land tenure system then and the way the inheritance system was shared is that you get as many as the children that you have. So, when farm land was given to you to work on and you have just one child there is no way they will give you 2 to 3 plots. They will give you only one plot because how many children are you feeding? Is it not just one? And so when the time came for my dad to get married, the paramount thing in my dads mind was get married, have many children. As they say in Urhobo land, let the children be your relatives, so that you are not alone in the palace. so, the first child came, the 2nd, the 3rd, the 4th.
And it was like this woman was only dropping girls, we need sons in this family. And then my turn came. Everytime my mum had a girl, they used to have issues. He would send her packing most of the time. So she will go back to Warri to meet her parents. My maternal grandfather was a lay reader of the Anglican Church. Back then, the missionaries were like the Big wigs of the society and teachers also. So, he was a man of influence as it were. So each time, he will try to talk to my dad and they will accept my mum back. And then he accepts. And my mum moved back again and my mum got pregnant again, and then dropped another girl.
So, the male syndrome thing made it necessary for my dad to have sons in the family. It was like a given that he must have sons, especially when you are from the palace. When my mum got pregnant for him, it was like, No, you have to go. It was like I am sure, this is another girl. My mum went home and put to bed. My dad was at Abraka at the time. Abraka to Warri now is about 45 mins or 30 mins or less.
But then, at that time, the person took 3 hours to ride the bicycle from Warri to Abraka to inform my dad that you now have a son. So, On the way to Ubraka to Warri, my dad was asking him constantly Tuyota, tell him the truth ooo. Are you sure? Tuyota. Which is why I was named that Tunyota. When he got there, my maternal grandfather also gave me the name. (It is only God that knows the time). But my dad was too eager to know that its a son, not that they made a mistake. Did you check and made sure its a son and not the unblical cord? He kept asking.
When they got there, my dad was happy and they said my paternal grandfather told him, I told you God is the one that gives. My mum now went to join my dad in Abraka after a while. After the war, my dad now relocated to Lagos to join the Nigerian Army. He transfered his service from the Teaching Service to the Nigerian Army Education core. He relocated to Ojo Cantonment. He then moved all of us later to join him. I had grown up in Warri a bit.
The Warri genes were already established. Not that we are rude. But we grew up to have confidence. We grew up to be bold. We grew up to talk and reason fast. You grew up to think deep and think beyond what others are thinking. You grew up to be humorous because you will use it to code whatever you are saying. We learnt all those languages and communication skills. We grew up in a cosmopolitan environment. We had Hausas, Ibos, Yorubas, Itsekiri, Indians, Portugese. So, we grew up in Warri and the only language we communicated with was pidgin English.
When I came to Lagos I was like a Professor. The pidgin English was like the lingua franca. I made friends quickly. I went Ojoo Primary School, then St. Micheal Primary School. My Principal was Mr. Ige who later became a Commissioner in Lagos State. I left and went to Command Secondary School, Ipaja. My dad was in the Military, so the Nigerian Army Education Corp had some allotment for their children.
When I graduated, I was supposed to read Law. I didn’t like Mathematics. Mathematics didn’t like me either. I had F9. I just didn’t like Maths at all. My dad now said you can’t read Law because you don’t have Mathematics. So I registered again in one College as an External Student. I sat for the exams and I had my Credit in Maths and still passed the other subjects and went to Ekpoma University. But the quota for Ekpoma was filled, so I had to go to Abraka campus to read Religious Studies/Education. The idea was read it for one year and transfer to Ekpoma and start Year 2 to read Law.
When I got there, they started one story again. So, I stayed back to read Religious Studies & Philosophy. My uncle then, who was a Senior Lecturer in sciences arranged for me to join Ekpoma. It was in Year 2 that I was supposed to change to Year 1. I was to change to Year 1 to read Law. But Law had been changed to 5 years. So it means I have to add my 2 years to the 5 years, + 1 year of Law School would have been 8 years. Then, I will do 1 year of Youth Service that will be 9 years, all for one degree.
I told my dad, let me finish this course, I can come back and do it and I will have 2 degrees. My dad said ok, no problem if that is what you want, fine. That was my deal with my dad. In Year 2, towards the end of the session I discovered Stand Up comedy. And when I discovered it, I weighed the indices-the kind of money I was making, the kind of popularity I had gotten, the people that I got to know, the travelling opportunities.
When I was in school, I went to Ibadan, Ife, Ilorin, Portharcourt University, Nsukka University, UNIBEN, Lagos, Yaba Tech, all for the first time. It was like I wouldn’t have been to all these places if I read Law. As I was going to all these places, I was getting paid higher than I was being paid in school. In school my fee was N20, N30 when I got to Ilorin they paid N150, when I went to Yaba Tech they paid N300. UNILAG paid N250. LUTH physiotherapy students paid N500.
I was like I am making a lot of money. The quick dynamics was my dad was given N150, sometimes N120, sometimes N100 monthly. And I could earn that amount from one show. It meant that if I did 3 to 4 shows in a month I could even send some one back home for their upkeep. So, I realised that if I concentrated in this Stand Up comedy I could make a lot of money. My daddy didn’t want to hear any of these talk. From Year 2 to Year 3 he shut me out. It was my uncle of blessed memory, Chief Benjamin Okumagba that took up the responsibility of taking me through Year 3 and Year 4.
What was your dads reason?
For him it was that I am the first son and he had all girls. If he still had to take care of me it will be a problem. So, he wanted me to have a good job or get a degree that made sure that the opportunities were higher like Law. Law offered many options. He didn’t like the fact that I had only the Religious Studies degree. He simply didn’t want me to be a responsibility to him. He said he actually needed me to begin to take some of the responsibility off him. I could see his point years later. But at that time I didn’t see that.
I can say all this now because I have children who are now deciding on what to do. I am telling them look, you have to become this and you that. One of them said I want to become a DJ, I said Nibo? No way. Our parents at that time look at facts. They don’t look at expectations. His own fact was, you said you want to be a comedian, give me examples of people who were comedians already. So, I started mentioning some people and my dad was cracking up.